Feature story

Global initiative to stop the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men

24 July 2007

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It’s an unfortunate reality that all too often, the people most at risk and most in need of HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes are those least likely to have access to these services. For example it is estimated that fewer than one in 20 men who have sex with men (MSM) around the world have access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

In a bid to scale-up action and stop the spread of AIDS among men who have sex with men, the Foundation for AIDS Research, amFAR has launched an initiative to support grassroots MSM organizations at the International AIDS Conference in Sydney.

The initiative, in addition to directly supporting grassroots organizations, will also advocate for more research on MSM issues and fund global advocacy efforts aimed at mobilizing funding from international donors, national governments, and others. The advocacy program will also focus on launching campaigns to end the stigma, discrimination, and violence that threatens the lives of MSM and fuels the spread of AIDS.

“Empowering MSM and other marginalized groups to protect themselves from HIV is one of the world’s most urgent health priorities,” said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

This initiative is important as evidence and experience show that focusing AIDS programmes and services specifically on people who are most at risk leads to encouraging progress within the response and can help reduce stigma and discrimination.

In Bangladesh for example, successful advocacy from the Banhu Social Welfare Society, including networking and participation in governmental meetings, ensured the inclusion of issues relating to men who have sex with men in the five-year National AIDS Strategic Plan.

In Indonesia, the Aksi Stop AIDS and Family Health International programme worked with the Indonesian authorities to highlight the contribution that communities of men who have sex with men can make. These communities now regularly participate in consultations on AIDS-related issues with the Ministry of Health.

In many countries, however, prevention efforts are hindered by laws that criminalize male-male sex, making work with men who have sex with men difficult and impeding their contribution to the response to the epidemic. Where social, cultural and religious attitudes make the issue politically sensitive, politicians can be reluctant to support policies and programmes that might result in public criticism from community leaders and groups.

Lack of research about men who have sex with men including their behaviours and attitudes, and criminalization and stigmatization of and legal discrimination against these men, are significant barriers to implementing effective programmes.

“A quarter century into the epidemic, MSM in many countries still do not have even the basic tools to protect themselves against HIV,” said Kevin Frost, acting CEO of amfAR. “We must have the courage to stand side by side with the grassroots organizations on the front lines of this epidemic delivering services and demanding greater action from governments. With funding and support, these organizations can transform attitudes, change policy, and mobilize funding to reverse the spread of HIV among MSM.”




Links

More on the MSM Initiative
Download the Best Practice: HIV and Man who have Sex with Men in Asia and the Pacific
Read more on men having sex with men
Download UNAIDS Policy brief on MSM ( enfresrupt(227 Kb, pdf)

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